NORMAN — Ever since Norman North returned to basketball practice months ago, there’s been no doubt that the Timberwolves had the physical abilities necessary to compete with most everyone in Class 6A. What has held back the T-Wolves, who start two freshmen in Lindy Waters and Marcus Dickinson, is the mental aspect of the game.
With very little varsity experience on the squad, mental mistakes have cost North in its biggest games this season. Coming within several points of big upsets over Edmond North, Edmond Memorial and most recently Del City, it has been small mental errors that have cost the Timberwolves. A turnover here or a bad shot there has been the difference between North competing with the state’s top teams and beating them.
It’s an understandable and expected issue with young squads. And, while the wins haven’t yet come, coach Butch Roberts is seeing some progress. In last weekend’s Bishop McGuinness Classic, he said the T-Wolves took some important steps despite coming up just short against Edmond North.
But inconsistency is the hallmark of many an inexperienced squad, and the Timberwolves are no different. After playing ahead for much of the game against Class 5A’s eighth-ranked Del City on Monday, North fell to a 75-72 loss in a contest Roberts felt the Timberwolves should have won.
“We played really well in spurts, but we’ve got to take the next step and string together a few stops,” he said. “We’re right there with these good teams and we’re only a step or two away from being on their level, but those steps are the hardest ones to take because they require dedication and mental toughness.”
The good news for the T-Wolves is that it takes just one game to turn everything around. And that game could be Friday’s rematch with Del City, a game coming just four days after the two squads competed in Monday’s contest that was rescheduled from the beginning of the season.
“It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg situation where you have to have the confidence that you can get it done, but you have to do it to get that confidence,” Roberts said. “They just have to find a way to get it done. When they do, I think they’ll turn a corner. But you can’t just flip that switch.”
The T-Wolves have come a long way from just a few months ago. Roberts praises how well his team has begun to share the ball and steadily improve its transition defense. But there are still several areas that must improve, with defensive rebounding sitting atop that list.
One T-Wolves player has a unique perspective. Senior Blake Knighton, who has seen both highly successful season as well as last year’s disappointing 4-20 campaign, is doing his best to fill a leadership role and provide a steady hand for his younger teammates to look to.
“I try to lead by example in practice every day, and the freshmen have been really good about adjusting to the team,” he said. “For us to take that next step, I think we have to do a better job of recognizing the situations we’re in and treating every possession like it’s our last.”
The Timberwolves have an immediate chance to do that, with Friday’s 7:45 p.m. contest at Del City offering them an opportunity to fix the mistakes they made Monday and take that next step their coach is looking for.
“I like it a lot,” Knighton said of playing Del City again so soon. “It’s a chance to get revenge after a tough loss.”
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